According to industry reports, Microsoft plans to build an Xbox portable game store. It would run on a ‘range of devices’ and leverage games from Activision’s planned Blizzard King merger, including mobile giants Call of Duty: Mobile and Candy Crush Saga.
Would he succeed? It’s hard to say. Microsoft recognizes that changing consumer behavior from existing habits – buying from the App Store or Google Play – is difficult. There are good reasons to be concerned. Android might have more freedom than iOS when it comes to app and game installs, but ask Amazon how its “Appstore” fared well – and if anyone who doesn’t own a Kindle care. The relative scarcity of quality isn’t great either. Elsewhere, Netflix has its own crack in mobile games (and, according to Eurogamer, is exploring its own cloud offering). But despite an objectively solid collection of titles seems to have little impact.
Microsoft might fare better due to its existing influence and reputation. It aims to woo third-party developers with the promise of freedom. They will be able to use all “App Store-ception” with their own app stores within Microsoft. They will have the ability to use proprietary payment systems, eliminating the owner of the platform. Ironic, considering Microsoft doesn’t allow this on Xbox consoles.
At first glance, this looks like the reverse of Apple’s approach. It took Apple a long time to figure out the game lineup, and it dismissed the titles in a way that raised some eyebrows. It’s less of a problem today, but developers are still smart about Apple’s 30% cut. And gamers are angered by Apple’s nonsensical stance on streaming game services. The company effectively requires each title to be a separate app, although this restriction does not apply to other media.
We can discuss the pros and cons of each approach, but it’s more important to look beyond the spin. Because despite the differences between rivals, the commonality that underpins app stores is a desire for control.
Microsoft talks about choice and competition, but it wants to control the narrative. He is currently under scrutiny by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over the deal with Activision, and must successfully argue that he is different. In effect, this creates another walled garden – albeit a shorter wall with a few holes. And if you don’t think Microsoft wants to wrest control of part of the market, primarily to achieve a long-term goal of rolling around in piles of cash, I’ve got a bridge (building block) for you to sell.
Epic, for all its railing against The Man, exists in a similar space. The Verge noted that it was blocked Fortnite from Xbox Cloud Gaming. Why? Due to concerns that Microsoft’s service was competing with Epic’s PC offerings.
As for Apple, it’s no secret that the company has always liked tight control over its ecosystem and what works on its devices. Streaming gaming is blocked under the guise of safety and security – but from the outside it looks a lot like the company doing an Epic, blocking competition to bolster its own services.
Too bad for the good guys, then, because there aren’t any. People get attached to the Apples and Epics of this world – and, yes, even the Microsofts (hello, Zune fans!) – but they’re all profit-driven companies. There will be hints of improving the game – or, in nobler moments – humanity as a whole. Sometimes companies can even achieve this goal. But in this space, we have to remember that everyone is looking for ways to attract a large base of users with money to spend – and keep it from heading elsewhere.